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Coronavirus live blog, May 30, 2020: 61 more deaths raise Illinois coronavirus toll to 5,330

Here’s what we learned Saturday about how COVID-19 is impacting Chicago and Illinois.

Here’s what happened in Chicago and around the state as the coronavirus pandemic continued.


News

6:57 p.m. 61 more deaths raise Illinois coronavirus toll to 5,330

A phlebotomist draws blood for a coronavirus antibody test in May in the parking lot of St. Rosalie Catholic Parish in Harwood Heights.
A phlebotomist draws blood for a coronavirus antibody test earlier this month in the parking lot of St. Rosalie Catholic Parish in Harwood Heights.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Health officials on Saturday announced an additional 61 people have died of COVID-19 in Illinois, raising the state’s death toll to 5,330.

The Illinois Department of Public Health also said another 1,462 people tested positive for the coronavirus among the latest batch of more than 25,000 tests administered.

Since the pandemic hit the state, 118,917 people have contracted the virus. Most have recovered.

COVID-19 has been reported in all but one of Illinois’ 102 counties. Data released by the state a day earlier shows more than half the state’s fatal cases have originated in nursing homes.

Reporter Mitch Armentrout has the full story.


5:21 p.m. Coronavirus cases could rise as protests continue, US city, health officials fear

LOS ANGELES — The massive protests sweeping across U.S. cities following the police killing of a handcuffed black man in Minnesota have elevated fears of a new surge in cases of the coronavirus.

Images showing thousands of screaming, unmasked protesters have sent shudders through the health community, which worries its calls for social distancing during the demonstrations are unlikely to be heard.

Leaders appealing for calm in places where crowds smashed storefronts and destroyed police cars in recent nights also have been handing out masks and warning protesters they were putting themselves at risk.

Minnesota’s governor said Saturday that too many protesters weren’t socially distancing or wearing masks after heeding the call earlier in the week.

But many seemed undeterred.

“It’s not OK that in the middle of a pandemic we have to be out here risking our lives,” Spence Ingram said Friday after marching with other protesters to the state Capitol in Atlanta. “But I have to protest for my life and fight for my life all the time.”

Ingram, 25, who was wearing a mask, said she has asthma and was worried about contracting the virus. But she said as a black woman, she always felt that her life was under threat from police and she needed to protest that.

Read the full report here.

3:28 p.m. Nursing homes account for more than half of coronavirus deaths in Illinois, new data shows

Despite the state moving to Phase 3 of the governor’s reopening plan on Friday, many nursing homes and long-term care facilities continue to report increases in coronavirus cases and deaths.
Despite the state moving to Phase 3 of the governor’s reopening plan on Friday, many nursing homes and long-term care facilities continue to report increases in coronavirus cases and deaths.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Illinois nursing homes now account for 52% of all coronavirus deaths in Illinois, data released Friday shows.

The Illinois Department of Public Health on Friday reported 2,747 coronavirus deaths in Illinois nursing homes and long-term care facilities, and 17,133 cases.

The data this week again reflects a change in how the numbers were reported from previously. Last week, Illinois officials said they would no longer be reporting cases and deaths from homes which had not recorded a new case of coronavirus in the past 28 days. A day later, though, the state quietly reversed course and released updated data which included the cumulative number of cases and deaths since the start of the outbreak.

The state’s nursing home data continues to be riddled with inconsistencies, with some homes reporting a decrease in cases and deaths, despite assurances from Illinois officials that the data is cumulative. The state previously stopped counting “probable” nursing home cases and now reports only laboratory-confirmed cases, which had led totals to drop at some homes.

According to the data released on Friday, Illinois has 536 homes which have had cases of coronavirus. But a Sun-Times review of that data found that multiple homes were listed twice both in the data released by the state and on their website.

Read the full report from Caroline Hurley here.


2:02 p.m. Infected workers, parts shortages slow auto factory restarts

DETROIT — The U.S. auto industry’s coronavirus comeback plan was pretty simple: restart factories gradually and push out trucks and other vehicles for waiting buyers in states left largely untouched by the virus outbreak.

Yet the return from a two-month production shutdown hasn’t gone quite according to plan. For some automakers, full production has been delayed, or it’s been herky-jerky, with production lines stopping and starting due to infected workers or parts shortages from Mexico and elsewhere.

“There’s a lot that can go wrong in bringing people back into the plants to try to build very complicated assemblies,” said Kristin Dziczek, vice president of industry and labor at the Center for Automotive Research, an industry think tank.

Most automakers closed factories in mid-to-late March when workers began to get sick as the novel coronavirus spread. The factories started to reopen on one or two shifts in mid-May as state stay-home restrictions eased, with automakers touting safety precautions that include checking workers’ temperatures, certification by workers that they don’t have symptoms, social distancing, time between shifts and plastic barriers where possible to keep workers apart.

Still, some workers got COVID-19, although it’s not known where they were infected. In some cases they still came to work, forcing companies to close plants temporarily for cleaning. In at least one case, a worker at a seat-making plant near Chicago got the virus, forcing a shutdown and cutting off parts.

Read the full report here.

11:27 a.m. US food prices see historic jump and are likely to stay high

DES MOINES, Iowa — As if trips to the grocery store weren’t nerve-wracking enough, U.S. shoppers lately have seen the costs of meat, eggs and even potatoes soar as the coronavirus has disrupted processing plants and distribution networks.

Overall, the cost of food bought to eat at home skyrocketed by the most in 46 years, and analysts caution that meat prices in particular could remain high as slaughterhouses struggle to maintain production levels while implementing procedures intended to keep workers healthy.

While price spikes for staples such as eggs and flour have eased as consumer demand has leveled off, prices remain volatile for carrots, potatoes and other produce because of transportation issues and the health of workers who pick crops and work in processing plants.

In short, supermarket customers and restaurant owners shouldn’t expect prices to drop anytime soon.

“Our biggest concern is long-term food costs. I believe they will continue to go up,” said Julie Kalambokidis, co-owner of Adriano’s Brick Oven, a restaurant in Glenwood, Iowa.

Read the full report here.

10:20 a.m. Prayers and precautions: Pritzker eases religious rules, but most faiths still opting to ‘err on the side of caution’

How many worshippers are welcomed into churches, synagogues and mosques across Illinois is now a matter of recommendation, rather than requirement.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker made the significant change regarding capacity limits at houses of worship in his latest coronavirus disaster proclamation as residents move into the next stage of Illinois’ gradual reopening — but that doesn’t mean the pews will be packed on Sunday.

Not even at Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church on the Northwest Side.

The Albany Park church’s pastor, the Rev. Cristian Ionescu, had claimed victory over “tyranny” after Pritzker issued a relaxed guidance for religious gatherings that rendered moot Elim’s legal challenge against the governor’s more stringent stay-at-home order.

But Ionescu is now preaching caution, not crowds.

“We are not giddy with this victory, and we are not going to relent, and we are not going to relax,” Ionescu said in a video message Thursday. “We are going to enforce and keep all precautionary measures and restrictions in place, because we care about the health and wellbeing of our members.”

Read the full story from Mitch Armentrout here.

9:09 a.m. Singer John Vincent lifts seniors’ spirits one ballad at a time via nursing home ‘concerts’

While singer John Vincent provides hope and cheer by performing classic hits to senior citizens through nursing home “concerts” around Chicago, his heart is heavy.

“We’re in unprecedented times where the unemployment rate is the highest since the Great Depression. When I’m singing, all of this is weighing on my head,” said Vincent. “My mind is constantly spinning, so I’ll experience waves of anxiety and happiness and sadness during one song.”

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Vincent, a Southwest Side native and the Cubs’ resident National Anthem singer since 2003, was approached by a Chicago police commander whose district is in the shadow of Wrigley Field, about performing nursing home “concerts” for residents.

Reporter Evan F. Moore has the full story.

8:32 a.m. Twilight Zone no more, downtown Highland Park jumped back to life on Friday

Most of downtown Highland Park has been frozen in place since mid-March, as if a set for a Twilight Zone episode titled “The COVID-19 Encounter,” where all the people in a town suddenly vanish as retail storefronts stuffed with merchandise eerily remained intact.

I don’t know how this episode will end, but Friday there was a welcome, upbeat plot twist. The coronavirus pandemic shutdown eased in Chicago’s suburbs and this North Shore city – as so many suburbs - jumped to life.

Suddenly, retail stores, hair and nail salons, barber shops and restaurants with outdoor dining were open for business. People were on the street — many, not all, in masks. The vibe was survival, revival, and in some places, bless them, extreme sanitation.

At 8 a.m., Highland Park Village Manager Ghida Neukirch was overseeing crews blocking off part of Sheridan Road, just off Central Avenue, to convert public space to an area for outdoor diners.

Down the block, Stepan Mikula, owner of “The Barbers” was finishing restoring his shop after repainting, restaining the floors and spreading out the chairs. He will reopen Saturday.

He’s been closed since March 14 and the economic impact was “horrible.” He’s bringing back his five barbers, contractors he was not able to pay these past months. On Saturday “all four chairs are booked solid.”

Read the full story from Lynn Sweet here.

7:15 a.m. How many students are taking part in remote learning at your school? Search our database.

Chicago Public Schools released data this week on remote learning participation that found that fewer than 60% of all Chicago Public Schools students are engaging with online remote learning three or more days per week.

The report, which includes some of the most detailed metrics in the country, measured 294,000 students at district-run schools and focused on the week of May 11.

The data shows about 85% of students were successfully contacted by someone at their school at least once during that week, whether to check in for academic reasons or to offer social and emotional support. But more than 43,000 students, including a quarter of all high schoolers, weren’t reached that week. Since schools closed, 2,200 students haven’t been reached a single time.

Reporter Caroline Hurley has all the data and searchable database.


New cases


Analysis & Commentary

1:01 p.m. University of Illinois football and basketball players — essential workers — head back to campus

Some student workers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will return to campus next week to start preparing for their football and men’s basketball seasons.

Did I say workers? Yes, that’s what they are. The university calls them student-athletes, and they are that, too.

But please make no mistake. They are employees at the U. of I. That they are going back, though summer classes were moved online because of the pandemic, underscores how valuable they are to the university.

They are not just students or athletes. They are workers, too.

It looks like they will be treated a lot better than many other workers across America. They are fortunate in that regard. In announcing the athletes’ return, the school said it was coordinating with sports medicine staff, local doctors and the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District. That’s a lot of oversight.

June workouts will be voluntary at the U. of I. The athletics department has promised to honor financial aid commitments — their pay — even if athletes are no-shows because of concerns over the coronavirus.

But the pressure is on. Forgoing workouts means you are letting down the team. That makes it tough to say no to driven, demanding coaches.

Read Marlen Garcia’s full column here.

7:31 a.m. Gov. Pritzker walks a fine line between public safety and angry critics in reopening Illinois

In the period just before and after Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued his first stay-at-home order in March, houses of worship in Illinois reportedly experienced 13 COVID-19 outbreaks, resulting in 88 cases.

Since then, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health, iIllinois has seen no such outbreaks — until one was revealed last week. IDPH told me of a very recent church-related outbreak of 39 cases, including the pastor.

That outbreak was acknowledged last Wednesday by the administrator of the Jackson County Health Department. The administrator told WSIU Radio that the unnamed Southern Illinois church had been holding services in defiance of the governor’s stay-at-home order.

And now, you gotta figure more church-related outbreaks could happen if people aren’t careful.

Pritzker told reporters last week that his administration will be posting “guidance, not mandatory restrictions, for all faith leaders to use in their efforts to ensure the health and safety of their congregants.” He said the guidance would be “suggestions” on capacity limits, indoor gatherings of 10 persons or less, etc.

“Governor Pritzker has capitulated, and the Thomas More Society is claiming victory in a trio of church lawsuits charging Illinois’ governor with religious discrimination,” a spokesperson for the organization said.

And then Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul filed his office’s response, mandated by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, to an emergency request by two Illinois churches that wanted the governor’s restrictions lifted. In that response, Raoul claimed the two churches’ filing was basically moot because the governor’s executive order would expires the next day.

Read Rich Miller’s full column here.